So, does Michael Phelps believe in flossing?

(CNN)No, those purple spots viewers first noticed on Michael Phelps’ back last weekend weren’t telltale signs of Zika, or hickeys from the night before. As the media zoomed in, the world soon learned they were the result of a traditional Chinese technique called cupping, and as you might have heard by now, it’s got quite a following among Olympic athletes.

As an American physician trained in the standard “allopathic” (that is, mainstream) regime, I’m inclined to roll my eyes. I’m skeptical, but open-minded enough to know not everything I do comes with a sterling base of, uh, evidence.


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You see, all the Olympic excitement about cupping, which has me rubbing my chin, comes directly after a wave of news headlines calling into question another funny-looking health routine Westerners have dutifully performed since the early 1800s: flossing. Did these two treatments get to where they are in 2016, despite faults, due to valuable evidence or simple belief? We know the mind has the capacity to palliate itself, so are cupping and flossing just features of a healthy imagination?
Cupping is practiced outside the mainstream, but flossing is part of the American oral health pantheon, touted for years by the dentists and hygienists we’ve long thanked for setting our nation’s smiles apart from others.


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Oh, and the two groups need to be of very similar age, socioeconomic background, keep to similar diets and maintain a similar general health status. Good luck conducting this multimillion-dollar enterprise. Industry has no motivation to fund it, subjects have no desire to join such a study, and I’d be thoroughly disgusted if the National Institutes of Health, with all of the more pressing problems out there, spent a dime on it. The same goes for cupping.
I trust the dentists and their experience comparing the mouths of their patients who floss regularly to those who don’t floss in their own clinics.
And while I think that flossing is more important to the health of far more people that is, pretty much everyone — than cupping is to an elite group of athletes, both are relatively low risk activities even if they’re not doing everything that’s claimed.
One thing, though: Cupping can cause burns, so maybe you’re better off with a mechanical vacuum method if you’re going to do it, and flossing can send bacteria into the bloodstream, so discuss it with your doctor if you’re immunocompromised.
But whatever you do, stay positive.

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